Preparing Teachers to ‘Reach and Teach’ All Students

The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect the views of AACTE.

Classrooms today are more diverse than ever. Students come with a wide array of learning modalities, interests, and life experiences and represent increasingly varied socioeconomic, religious, and cultural backgrounds. As of 2014, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, “minorities” now constitute the majority of PK-12 students in U.S. public schools, and more than 10% of students are considered English language learners (ELLs). How can we better prepare our candidates to “reach and teach” all children in today’s schools?

Please join me for a free webinar next month to explore this question. AACTE will host the webinar, “Building Teachers’ Cultural and Global Awareness to ‘Reach and Teach’ All Students,” Wednesday, April 12, 3:00-4:00 p.m. EDT. I will be presenting along with representatives from the state department of education, state professional standards board, and NAFSA: Association of International Educators. Click here to learn more and register.

The city where my university is located – Lexington, Kentucky, with a population of approximately 310,000 people – is no stranger to dramatically changing student demographics. In the last decade alone, there has been a nearly 300% growth in number of ELLs in the schools that serve the Lexington community. The number of first languages spoken by students in the school system rose from 27 in 2005-2006 to nearly 100 when the 2016 school year began. These data, coupled with the increasing demand for global engagement in the workplace, have caused my colleagues and me at the University of Kentucky to consider the implications for teacher preparation. What dispositions, knowledge, and skills can we help teachers acquire to broaden their cultural perspectives – as well as those of their students – for fuller participation in our interconnected world?

Already, I am changing the way I guide the teacher candidates who student teach abroad. In the course required for program participation that I teach in the spring, my students and I are exploring our own cultural identities and dispositions related to global learning using a suite of resources that encourages reflection and discussion, “My Cultural Awareness Profile” (MyCAP©), developed by NAFSA: Association of International Educators. We are also using another NAFSA tool, the Global Preparation Lens for examining the InTASC standards for beginning teachers, alongside the state’s academic standards designed for use with PK-12 students in Kentucky’s public schools. Next, the candidates will develop units of instruction focused on globally significant topics and building intercultural understanding. My hope is that they will have their students in the international setting collaborate with students in local schools on these projects. It is an ambitious goal but one that can yield positive results.

As we engage candidates in developing the dispositions, knowledge, and skills they need to help all students succeed, it is important to remember that building cross-cultural and global understanding is a process. It is developmental, transformative, and often time consuming, and it requires a safe environment.

  • Developmental: Candidates start at different places in regards to their cultural and global competence. Many come to their programs with very limited cultural or global knowledge and may not understand why it is important. In order to support their learning, we must meet them where they are and find ways to help them learn and develop in ways that are appropriate for their current perspectives.
  • Transformative: A foundational requisite for cross-cultural and global learning is the understanding of oneself as an individual with a culture and with a specific global orientation. Achieving this realization can be difficult as students confront their own biases and ethnocentric perspectives, many for the first time. This type of learning is about accumulating not just knowledge, but also perspective and understanding.
  • Time Consuming: Ongoing self-reflection in conjunction with structured opportunities for engagement is essential to increased cultural and global learning. These components take time, patience, and support. Instructors should be prepared to engage with students on their own level and to acknowledge progress as it unfolds.
  • Requires a Safe Environment: Such learning pushes students beyond their comfort zones. The necessary changes in perspective take time and patience, but require a supportive and safe environment above all else. Self-reflection and discussion about sensitive and difficult topics such as bias and ethnocentricity are possible only when students feel supported. Conversations and learning experiences should be structured carefully, with adequate time and resources to process changes in perspective. Acknowledging the difficulty and complexity of such learning is often helpful.

The NAFSA resources are helping me and other teacher educators to structure and plan learning activities so that students can remain engaged in the process. What are you doing at your institution to prepare candidates for cultural and global competence? I hope you’ll join the webinar next month to learn from others and share your ideas.

Sharon Brennan is associate professor and director of clinical practices and school partnerships in the University of Kentucky College of Education. Heather MacCleoud of NAFSA: Association of International Educators also contributed to this article.

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Sharon Brennan

University of Kentucky